Sara Florek’s New London
I think I've pinpointed when New London officially got under my skin.
In April 2004, a few months before I moved to downtown New London, Day paper veteran Lee Howard, who was then my editor at The Times weeklies, showed me a striking photograph taken by my former colleague Brenna Chapman of an old man sitting in the Thames Barbershop on Methodist Street.
Lee wanted some copy to go along with the photo, so he asked me spend a few hours at the barbershop, get a feel for the place and write about whatever happened, if anything.
Amid the hum and buzz of electric razors and quick-snipping scissors, the owners and the customers engaged in a stream of consciousness patter about sports, whatever was in the newspaper that day and about the people that they knew.
Sure, there are barbershop bull sessions, I would imagine, in thousands of places. But this was a peculiar concoction of time, place and people that couldn't have been anywhere else but New London.
On the topic of skin, I thought about that story this past week when I spent some time not at a barbershop but at the charming Salon 264 on Vauxhall St., which instead of haircuts offers manicures, pedicures and the like.
Sara Florek, 36, opened the salon in January 2011, and thus far it's been a satisfying passage in her New London story that's taken her from arty newcomer, to fronting a rock band, to now motherhood and running a small business.
Florek, who grew up in a "'Brady Bunch' neighborhood" off Spithead Road in Waterford, first moved to New London shortly after she graduated from Waterford High School in 1994.
Florek arrived downtown right at the birth of the current incarnation of New London's indie scene, when venues such as TAZ and Secret Theater opened on Bank and State streets.
Like others in the mid-'90s, she was lured by $400 rents and the blank canvas of possibility in the city.
Florek worked for a time at Thames River Greenery, just down the street from those venues, and would frequent them after her shifts.
"Who wouldn't, at that age, want to hang out at an open art space?" Florek said.
Hanging around, Florek met people who inspired her to open up and gave her the confidence to perform.
"I was a bit of a loner in high school, I never did drama or anything," Florek said.
But soon she was acting in plays by local writers and Mike McGuire and studied at the Institute for Creativity run by the Garde Arts Center.
Florek moved around the downtown area for several years, before she relocated to New York in 2003.
"I was curious about New York," she said.
Over time, Florek began to miss New London. Upon her return she entered into what she called the most important time her life, and it had much to do with the people she met here.
Soon after, Florek formed her first and only band, the punk-ish Brazen Hussy, along with Liz Larson, Rich Martin and Matt Potter.
"It was and is very 'familia' in nature," Florek said.
Due to "Summer of '69" stuff like marriages and children, Brazen Hussy, while not officially done, are in suspended animation for the foreseeable future.
Four years ago, Florek gave birth to a daughter, Ada, whom Florek is raising as single mom.
Since Ada's birth Florek has discovered that the city offers different sorts of opportunities beyond the art world.
Florek, who describes herself as "lower income," said she's sought out grants to help with Ada's education and takes advantage of things such as free admission days at the Lyman Allyn Museum.
"There's a support system here," Florek noted.
Not long ago, Florek entertained the idea of moving out of the city, possibly back to her hometown of Waterford. She looked around at a couple of places, but it only served to reinforce her connection to New London.
"It felt kind of lonely there," Florek said. "Even though I don't get to socialize as much I do, I feel like part of something here."
In the end, Florek and I, in the course of our conversation, never really arrived at a concrete reason why New London is a remarkable place to live.
But she offered up a story, which is better than solid answers anyway.
A couple of weeks ago for her birthday, Florek arranged to spend the night out with friends and cocktails.
The next morning there was a knock on her front door.
Florek opened it to find her neighbor there, holding a plate of eggs and bacon for breakfast.
"She told me, 'Here you'll need this,'" Florek said. "Then she turned and walked away."
Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lives in downtown New London. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @schupaska.
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